Coaching leaders: the importance of values and motivation

by Dr Sunny Stout-Rostron

The critical value of business coaching is in helping individual executives to think clearly about the core issues which present challenges to them in their career, their organization, their job, and their daily working life.

The focus of the coaching conversation is to help leaders work towards achieving their desired outcomes. It is in this process of reflection – where coach and client reflect on the client’s experience –  that potential for learning and action emerges. The coach also explores with each client what it is that is holding back or preventing the client from achieving their goals. But, for the coach working with the business leader, what are some of the considerations in terms of their expertise and learning, particularly in understanding where the client is in their own leadership journey?

This raises an important question for executives: if goals are to be motivationally achieved, are they in alignment with the individual’s values, beliefs and feelings? Organizations often pay lip service to organizational values, and don’t necessarily create them as a synthesis of the core individual values which make up the culture of the organization. Ethical dilemmas can arise during the coaching process if the executive needs to make difficult choices which are incompatible with their own value system.

Motivational theories focus primarily on the individual’s needs and motivations. I have typically worked with coaching clients to help them understand more fully their intrinsic motivators (internal drivers such as values, beliefs, and feelings), and how to use extrinsic motivators (external drivers such as relationships, bonuses, the environment, and titles) to motivate their teams. If an individual’s goals are not in alignment with their own internal, intrinsic drivers, there will be difficulties for them in achieving those goals.

The coach’s intervention and questions help the client to discover their own motivators, and help both coach and client to identify whether the client’s personal, professional and organizational goals are in alignment. Richard Ryan (2013) talks about how a coach can support motivation for change. He asks, “What do people really need to flourish?” and explains that, “Not unlike a plant that needs water and sunlight to thrive, the human psyche has some nutrients that it needs to survive. It’s in our nature to flourish – to flourish is to develop, and to become fully functioning. But it requires nutrients, and those nutrients are the three conditions that facilitate intrinsic motivation:

  • Autonomy: manageable pressure, goal choice, strategy choice and task involvement.
  • Competence: optimal challenge, positive feedback, and informational rewards.
  • Relatedness: empathy, warmth, and acknowledgement of emotions” (Ryan, 2013).

If clients are to learn how to learn, they need to cultivate self-awareness through reflection on their experience, values, intrinsic drivers, the impact of these on others, the environment, and on their own future goals. The development of self-awareness is often implicit in the coaching relationship through the process of questions that develop critical reflection, and subsequent actions that develop practice. As a coach, or leader working with a coaching approach, you will be asking questions to help clients or direct reports to reflect, review and gain useable knowledge from their experience.

Learning, and particularly learning from experience, is one of the major components of the coaching conversation. Learning from experience implies an understanding of the language and content of the client’s story. The significance of the client’s story comes from both the structure of their telling it, and the interpretation and significance given to it. This indicates that helping your clients grow, develop and become who they want to be, requires asking for their best thinking, rather than sharing yours (Stout-Rostron, 2014: 26-28).



Stout-Rostron, S. (2014). Leadership Coaching for Results: Cutting-edge practices for coach and client, Randburg, South Africa: Knowres.

Ryan, R.M. (2013). Self-determination. Notes compiled by Stout-Rostron, S., from presentation to Coaching in Leadership and Healthcare Conference 2013, Harvard / McLean Medical School, Cambridge, MA, 28 September.



Sunny Stout-Rostron, DProf, MA Sunny Stout Rouston

Sunny’s interest in the WABC is based on its dedication to the development of business coaches. Like the WABC, she believes business coaching to be a developing profession in its own right. Business coaches can feel isolated, and the WABC enables them to connect in terms of practice, standards and ethics. Sunny has been coaching internationally for over 25 years, working with executive leaders and their teams. As a qualified Coach Supervisor, and Founding President of Coaches and Mentors of South Africa (COMENSA), she is passionate about developing the knowledge base for coaching through teaching, research and practice. This has meant helping to create several Masters programs for business coaching in South Africa. Sunny regularly works with coaches and clients in the UK, Europe, USA, South Africa and Australia.  She is the author of six books, including the recently published Leadership Coaching for Results: Cutting-edge practices for coach and client (Knowres, 2014).

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